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US: ringleader of admissions scam imprisoned

A Chinese national who masterminded a scam to fake US university admission tests for wealthy Chinese students has been sent to federal prison. 

NYU was one of the schools that was targeted by Chen to send wealthy Chinese students using fraudulent means. Photo: Pexels

Chen set up two “education admission” companies that charged Chinese students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed admission” into top US schools

Yi Chen, also known as Brian Chen, was sentenced to four years in jail at a court in Los Angeles, as well as being ordered to pay a total of $450,000 in fines and restitution money.

As part of the scam that spanned five years, Chen orchestrated the setup of Prime U.S. International and M.S. Education, two “education admission” companies that charged Chinese students thousands of dollars for “guaranteed admission” into top US schools, and F-1 student visas. 

“Under the guise of operating an ‘educational consulting’ company, [Chen] made millions of dollars by faking every aspect of the college admissions process,” US Attorney’s office prosecutors said in the sentencing memorandum. 

“Chen sat at the very top of a wide network of fraudsters, including imposter test-takers”

“In doing so, Chen sat at the very top of a wide network of fraudsters, including imposter test-takers, essay ghostwriters, and fake transcript purveyors,” they continued.

Between 2015-2021, Chen had the fake companies prepare application packages with “used or bogus transcripts”, and even saw the hiring of people to impersonate prospective students to take necessary TOEFL tests and others. 

With these materials, Chen then submitted the applications, one of of which eventually saw a student obtain admission to NYU. 

Chen was found guilty on March 21 this year on one count of visa fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. However, Chen was also acquitted of one count of conspiracy to commit immigration document fraud and 10 counts of visa fraud.

He was originally arrested, along with co-defendant Yixin Li – aka Eason Li and Calvin Wong – in 2021, who subsequently plead guilty and testified at Chen’s trial in March. 

As CEO and owner of the two companies, Judge Scarsi, presiding, agreed that Chen was the “leader of the enterprise” – but rejected the government’s request to “base his sentence on conduct”. 

It was found that he obtained at least 25 student visas for his clients that were found to be fraudulent, with acceptances then given to top universities in the country, such as NYU, USC, Boston and Columbia. 

In a statement to the court, Chen, speaking through an interpreter said he was “deeply sorry and regretful” regarding his conduct. 

His attorney, Shaun Khojayan, stated, asking for a lighter sentence for Chen, that “as a foreign national [he] is ineligible for early release or a minimum-security prison”.

“I feel deeply sorry and deeply regretful”

Despite this plea for a shorter two-year sentence, a four-year sentence was given by Judge Scarsi. 

One attorney for the prosecution, Julia Hu, also told of how Chen hired an unnamed Hollywood screenwriter to write up fake admission essays and recommendation letters.

A domestic scam in 2018 uncovered a string of parents paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to guarantee acceptance into top US schools, and saw high profile actresses Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman receive jail time.

Both Chen and his co-defendant are also linked to an earlier indictment involving a “group of imposter test-takers” – the indictment told of how took TEOFL tests on behalf of foreigners, as mentioned in the original scheme, under fake Chinese passports. 

Six defendants were part of this earlier case, and all were sentenced to probation after pleading guilty. It was also confirmed that Chen will be deported from the US after finishing his four-year sentence. 

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